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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Space Chimps
Space Chimps
Fox // G // November 25, 2008
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Bill Gibron | posted November 6, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Product:
How can anyone screw this up - monkeys in space? Come on, the concept practically writes itself. Get a few simians, an interstellar set-up and let the feces flinging begin. Love them or delouse them, but the prehensile antics of your typical squirrel or spider star of the species are the loveliest of lowest common denominator entertainments - better than Frisbee catching dogs, a heck of a lot better than pissed off prairie dogs or cats who can play the piano. No, the ape taps directly into our non-Biblical concept of creation, like looking in the mirror and seeing our hairy, unhygienic self. So how could Space Chimps miss this easy cinematic lay-up? How did they manage to take the primate and leech out every last bit of fun, humor, and slapstick scatology? Easy - they let stunt voice casting, indeterminate CGI, and a lack of true monkey focus get in the way.

The Plot:
After a costly probe disappears in space, a budget conscious Senator with the final say re: NASA's funding wants it located. A group of geek scientists figure that, instead of a manned mission, they will send a trio of trained chimps to retrieve the item. On the team is the macho but dumb Titan, the level headed and hard working Luna, and in a planned PR move, the great grandson of the first ape astronaut ever, Ham III. After discovering a wandering wormhole, the monkeys soon find themselves on a colorful alien planet ruled by a wannabe dictator named Zartog. The creature is using the high tech Earth satellite to intimidate and control the peace loving population. It's up to the primate heroes to find a way to defeat the villain and get back home before they are lost in the universe forever.

The DVD:
When is a chimps in space movie NOT a chimps in space movie? When it's the uninspired and insipid Space Chimps, that's when. Now, if none of this makes sense, don't worry - this colorless CG slop doesn't either. What should be a celebration of all things ape, a collection of comedic gold as only a bunch of anarchic animals can provide is instead retrofitted into a standard hero/villain dynamic, with a tyrannical alien in perpetual Paul Lynde mode and more tired pop culture references than a sampling of Shrek. By making the monkeys more human than the actual people in the plot (and stop complaining - ape...monkey...we're going with generic genus descriptions here, not zoological accuracy), the fun is forcibly zapped out of the movie. By the time our tiny warriors face off against the blob like beings from the pixie stick galaxy, we just want the movie to be over. Of course, it just goes on, and on, and on, and on...

Voice work can make or break a CG effort, and studios have been known to gimmick up the casting to guarantee success. Space Chimps doesn't do this. Instead, it relies on the tired (there needs to be a moratorium on Patrick Warburton in kid-friendly films, period), the typical (Jane Lynch) and the flat out odd (Adam Samberg? Cheryl Hines? Stanley Tucci?) to bring its uninterested images to life. The cartooning here is flat and lifeless, about a single step ahead of the Veggietales in the faked photorealism department. Sure, the genre has come a long way since Woody and Buzz traded Pixar-plotted quips, but Space Chimps definitely represents the low end of the 3D totem pole. And let's not even discuss the glowing tit that plays an important part in the narrative. That's right, a radiant little alien with a head shaped like a pert female breast offers up a second act slice of surrealism that will have parents perplexed and young male viewers discovering some pre-pubescent 'problems' sitting still.

Like the summer's other worthless space sputum - the insect suckiness known as Fly Me to the Moon - Space Chimps fails to offer up anything imaginative, original, or inventive. It takes tired gags, a penchant for piece meal cinematic referencing, a decidedly non-anarchic view of animals, and a last minute message about believing in oneself and turns it all into a turgid, uninspired snoozer. Something called Space Chimps should be bright and bubbly, the inherent joy of nature acting goofy playing directly into our eternal young at heartiness. Instead, things are taken seriously, as if kids and their put upon parents really care about the mechanics of some goal oriented space science plot. With its reliance on stereotypes to color characterization (the trio of NASA geeks in charge of the mission is a Central Casting collection of archetypes) and a real lack of fun, this is the Gordy to the rest of the CG genre's Babes.

The Video:
Presented by Fox in every critic's favorite "Screening Only" review copy format (complete with random logo placement), it's hard to comment on the image here. The transfer offered is impressive, but then again, it's not final product. One hopes the actual 2.35:1 widescreen anamorphic image surpasses the slightly compressed version experienced for this review. Theatrically, the film has some minor scope, even in the moments meant to be thrilling and epic. Here, everything has that mass produced sheen of a press preview disc.

The Audio:
Though information indicates that this screener provides all the necessary sonic situations of the final Fox packaging, this critic will again reserve judgment. The Dolby Digital 5.1 offered was good. The back channels come alive whenever the action starts up, and there are some nicely ambient moments of suspense, but the rest of the time, the speakers hardly spark. The musical score is fine, however, and the dialogue is easily discernible.

The Extras:
Aside from a basic casting feaurette, the Space Chimps DVD has no other bonus features to speak of. And that's not surprising, considering the film's commercial crash and burn this past Popcorn season. Still, one wonders why some of those patented "kid friendly" bonuses weren't added - you know, mindless remote control games, trivia contests passing as educational entertainment. Also, rumor has it that this is a 'flip disc' presentation, the full screen version on the other side from the widescreen edition. This cannot be confirmed because of the "Screener Only" aspects of the review DVD.

Final Thoughts:
Just call me Homer Simpson, but in my mind, monkeys are a sure thing. All they need to do is show up and hi-jinx are presumed to ensue. But Space Chimps is so high minded and manipulative, so built out of a belief that kids want some action and adventure to supplement their primate pleasures that the whole thing winds up feeling fractured and disorienting. One moment we're enjoying some decent cartoon capering, the next, tiny aliens are being "frozen" by a maniacal cretin with power issues. And then a boob shows up - literally. Awarded a Rent It for its basic babysitting potential, fans of the artform should steer way clear of this creatively bankrupt jumble. No brainers like ape-based entertainment have been successful since the dawn of cinema. How Space Chimps managed to mess this up will be something the celluloid scholars investigate for decades to come.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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